Feb 042014

i read about this little stall in an alley on a website devoted to saigon streetfood, its rumoured to have the best gà nướng or BBQ chook with broken rice. we taxied out there tonite to give it a shot, its not easy to find and a fair way from our hotel. the couple that run it have a few little tables lining the alley and a big char grill at one end to bbq the chook and pork on.

its a pretty crazy scene, they are absolutely flat out and as the food is cooked at one end of the alley and plated up to be served at the other end, the staff are sprinting from one end of the alley to the other, balancing plates of gà nướng and the couple of other dishes they cook here – all the time dodging the motorbikes that are still using the narrow, table lined alley!

the food lived up to its reputation, succulent and tender chook bbq’d in a scrumptious marinade, on a bed of ‘broken’ rice, a few pickles, some tomato and cucumber slices and a side dish of fresh chilli sauce. all for about $1.75 each!

they also do a side dish called cha, a steamed loaf of ground pork, mushroom, crab and other “secret” ingredients, but the language barrier meant we ended up missing out this time!

the taxis cost $10 to get us there and back – so about double the price of dinner for 3! if we were staying longer I would definitely get a motor bike for running round like this. Still compared to just about anywhere else, $15 all up for a meal for 3 and transport is still pretty damn cheap!

Feb 042014

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Bánh mì is the perfect fast food and/or hangover cure in Saigon. walk any street in Saigon and you’re likely to find at least one street food vendor smearing a small baguette with pâté, dropping in some cold cuts, pickled vegetables and fresh coriander squirting in some soy sauce (and adding a few chili peppers) … then wrapping it in a small sheet of paper and snapping a rubber band around the assembly. Off you go with a great hangover cure, midday or midnight sandwich snack.

Luckily you can usually find a street cart selling bánh mì right next to a cafe serving a great coffee so you could probably live on a diet of bánh mì and coffee indefinitely!

sal and i had a bánh mì and coffee to try to dispel the foggy head and lethargy that undoubtably had plenty to do with the excesses of last night, sal headed home but i decided to wander down town to the restaurant where we dined last night to pick up the jumper i had left there due to my early onset dementia.

as i was strolling along the shady boulevards of saigon i was assailed by a number of dodgy looking old men on motorbikes, slowing down so they could offer me ‘special massage with nice girl’, i suspect what they were offering was neither special nor a massage – and probably not a nice girl either!

it did occour to me they were missing their mark, had they offered me “special bánh mì or phở” – I probably would have taken them up on their kind offer and jumped on the back of their honda.

instead i gently declined their offer of “special massage” and continued my meanderings through the shady streets.

Feb 042014


the longer we spend in this city the more I enjoy it, certainly somewhere I want to come back and live for a few months, its got a lovely feel to it, very friendly, and as i said earlier, the wide boulevards, lots of big trees, wide footpaths and very clean streets make it stand out.

kai and banyans

yesterday we caught up with Alex Vu, our mutual friend, peter phipps is an old garma festival mate of mine and he hooked us up with alex when we told peter we were coming to saigon.

alex came over to our apartment and invited us back to his house to see a traditional vietnamese family home, he offered to take kai over on his motorbike while sal and i caught a taxi – as you can imagine kai took to that idea like a rat up a drainpipe!

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we spent a very enjoyable afternoon at alex’s house enjoying his hospitality, his parents and the rest of the family are away up north for the tet holiday so he was home alone, the house is 4 stories high, on a small footprint. after a tour of the house we settled down to beers, rice wine and lots of nibblies!

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we walked home after a couple of hours with alex with a plan to catch up for dinner with another of his friends later on, that gave us time for a nanna nap and sober up before heading out on the town!

alex and his friend minh arrived and we headed out to the bbq garden restaurant for a slap up meal, we started off with a 3 litre ‘jug’ of beer which seemed like the perfect solution to a problem we didnt even know about!

the table has a bbq in the middle of the table and you simply order dishes off the menu and then cook them on the plate, we had goat, beef in betel leaf, prawns, squid, vegies and probably more i have forgotten!

we then came back up near our apartment where there are lots of little japanese bars and enjoyed a bottle of warm sake, tuna sashimi and sushi, alex and minh then took us to the havana club to finish the night off – well sort of, after that we did end up back at the apartment having a few beers and a wide ranging, intellectual, articulate and erudite drunken rave!

All in all a wonderful night, with great company, yummy food and a big hangover on the way!


Feb 022014

we awoke a bit doughy this morning after a bottle of vietnamese red and too many beers playing poker last night! we did have a very comfortable sleep on board the good ship Le Conchinchine 3, and the crepes, fresh fruit and strong black coffee got us going pretty quickly. It was a lovely calm misty morning on the mekong river and we headed off in a smaller boat to explore the floating markets of Cai Be as well as visiting villagers using traditional methods to make rice paper for spring rolls and puffed rice for cereals and munchy treats. I have added a couple of short videos to show these traditional skills and you can watch them below.

we also visited a beautiful traditional wooden vietnamese house that is nearly 200 years old and operates as a home stay now. we enjoyed a fruit platter and pot of tea in the gardens after wandering through the house and admiring not just the construction but the beautiful antique furniture,

both the rice paper and puffed rice are made using a fire made from the rice husks, we saw the same fuel used in the brick kilns, and the ash after the husks are burnt is used as fertiliser so there is very little wasted in the production chain of rice!

the rice paper sheets are made with a form of rice milk that you can see in the tub beside the woman, the puffed rice is mixed with river sand in a large wok – the sand has become black from the burning husks and is continuously reused.

so it was goodbye to Le Conchinchine 3 and her wonderful crew, and our guide Kiet, and off in our car to Ho Chi Minh City, we arrived early in the afternoon and have settled into our apartment in down town Saigon, on first appearances its a beautiful city, wide boulevards, unusally wide and flat footpaths for this part of the world and lots of trees and old buildings.

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we ducked out for our first meal – a bowl of Pho, luckily we found a little street food stall that was open – as much of Saigon is closed for the Tet holiday, and for the princley sum of about $4 we had a bowl of Pho each and Kai had a plate of chicken and rice. I think we are going to enjoy our few days here!



Feb 022014

we woke on saturday morning in chau doc and went for a wander through the huge street market before breakfast, which we got at a stall across the road from the restaurant, rice with a thin pork steak that was freshly char grilled, served with a yummy spicy sauce and a little salad.

we were picked up by a driver and headed off for our slow boat which was waiting for us in Long Xuyen, we arrived about lunch time and met our guide for the next couple of days, kiet. we headed out in the small boat and kiet explained that we were the only guests on the good ship “Le Conchinchine” – a boat 80′ long with 3 decks, 12 cabins  and 4 crew!!

we got comfortable and then headed off down the mighty mekong river towards Sa Dec, we had a delicious lunch of banana flower salad with shredded chicken followed by fried bread pork parcels, which I suspect were a bit fattening! never mind, because ahead of us was a 12km ride through flower growing villages outside Sa Dec.

first we disembarked into the small boat and went across  the river to look at some brick kilns, the driveshaft promptly fell apart and we started drifting downriver, kiet and I managed to paddle across to the kilns while the driver hung upside down over the motor trying to fix the drive shaft!

we rejoined the big boat and motored off down the mekong, its a magical thing travelling down a big river slowly on a large boat, there is plenty of time to take all the sights in, a lovely breeze keeps you cool, people yell out to you from the banks, you can move around, snooze, or play hide and seek with the crew!

we then unloaded the bikes and set off for Sa Dec where the big boat would meet us, it was absolutely magical, we rode mainly on quiet concrete paths through the shady villages, winding our way through the beautiful nurseries  of flowers that these villages are famous for. it was late afternoon and a lovely temperature for a leisurely ride!

we dropped the bikes back at the boat at the sa dec wharf and then had a quick wander through the nightmarkets, before setting off to steam down river to our night anchorage, we sat up on the top deck watching the sun go down, sipping a beer while sal had a foot massage at the same time from one of the crew!

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market in sa dec

dinner was served after our cocktails in the dining deck, we had a delicate soup first, just vegetables but really tasty, next we had calamari, this was followed by rice with stir fried vegies, sweet and sour pork and a whole fish done in a tomato chilli sauce.

following dinner we had a few games of poker with the crew before retiring to our huge cabins for a well earned rest!

Jan 312014


bye to cambodia, and hi to vietnam!

today we caught the fast boat from phnom penh, down the mekong river to châu dóc, a small city on the river where we are spending a night in a hotel before joining the slow boat for the trip on to ho chi min city (HCMC).

as toad of toad hall famously said, “there is nothing half so much fun as simply messing about in boats!”, its such a pleasant way to travel, cool breeze, no bumps, great scenery as you cruise down the river, comfortable chairs, more leg space than a plane and you can sit outside.

also border crossings are so much more civilised, we pulled into a jetty and disembarked to clear out of cambodia, left our luggage on board, a couple of minutes later and our passports were stamped, we bought a cold beer from the girl on the jetty and jumped back on the boat.

exactly 1 beer later and we pulled into the jetty at the vietnamese border, someone took all our passports, we sat around and had another beer, climbed back on the boat and the same someone gave us all our passports back, stamped and we were officially in vietnam!

the whole trip took about 5 hours and we pulled in to châu dóc just before sunset, someone said to us our hotel was “50m that way and then turn left and its on your right down that street”. after following those directions and finding nothing resembling a hotel we asked some locals eating their dinner where the hotel was and despite their lack of english and our total absence of vietnamese, they took us to the door.

we had no sooner let ourselves in the room than the tour operator from ho chi minh that I had booked the boat trips through rang us to check we had arrived ok, and then told us the arrangements for our transfer by car to the slow boat in the morning.

it never ceases to amaze me how these things all just seem to fall into place, considering this was all organised at the last minute via email with someone in HCMC and it relied on a tuk tuk picking us up from our hotel in phnom penh, dropping us at the ferry terminal, somehow someone knowing which boat we were meant to go on from the 4 tied up at the wharf, getting us on the right boat, across two borders and into a hotel in the back streets of a wild river town – all with minimal language in common and none of the people involved working directly for the company organising the trip who were in a city hundreds of km’s away.

the internet has certainly transformed travel beyond belief in the last 10 years!

so of course the order of the day was to get straight out on the streets and find some nice local food, we walked 50m up the street from the hotel and there were just acres of street carts making fresh vietnamese meals, hundreds of people perched on the ubiquitous plastic stools at a shonky plastic table woofing down great fresh food.

sal saw a noodle dish being taken to a table and so pointed to that to choose a dish, i managed to get the girl serving to pick something off the menu for me – which turned out to be beef with chilli and lemongrass, and kai ended up with shredded chicken and fried rice – not quite what he wanted but he ate it with gusto! sal’s turned out to be noodles with prawns and squid and a top choice!

click on ‘i’ in top left corner of images for caption.